Reflection for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

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FIRST READING            Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b

Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, summoning their elders, their leaders, their judges, and their officers.  When they stood in ranks before God, Joshua addressed all the people:  “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling.  As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  But the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods.  For it was the Lord, our God, who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery.  He performed those great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among the peoples through whom we passed.  Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

SECOND READING                  Ephesians 5:21-32

Brothers and sisters:  Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body.  As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.  Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.

GOSPEL                John 6:60-69

Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”  Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?  What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.  The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.”  Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.  And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”  As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.  Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”  Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

What is your decision?  God asks us today to decide about Him, to decide about Jesus Christ.  Jesus wants us to stay with Him but also to believe in Him.  What is your decision?

The first reading today is from the Book of Joshua and speaks about the decision of our ancestors in the faith.  They also had to decide to serve the one God or to continue with other gods.  This decision always sounds simple but is very complex, just as it is for us.  So often we say that we will serve the Lord and yet we go on as if we are serving other Gods.  Our values remain foreign from this God who reveals Himself to us in the Scriptures.  Today it is so very common for people to say that they are “Catholic” and yet reject most of the teachings of the Church.  It is easy to say “I am a Catholic,” and it is truly difficult to be Catholic.

The second reading is from the Letter to the Ephesians and is another difficult reading because the teaching is barely acceptable to many people today.  “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands.”  That is a strong teaching and yet in the context makes perfect sense.  So many people get upset with this teaching and yet in the same teaching, we are told that we should be subordinate to one another.  This is not a one way street!  The teaching also tells us that “husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.”  Always we must listen to the whole context of a teaching.  In this context, the author is speaking about a mutual care for one another.  His way of expressing that care for one another comes from another time and another culture so we must listen attentively not to read in our own meanings or to take out the author’s meaning.  It is as we hear so often in the books of Wisdom:  Be attentive.

The Gospel of John today brings us back to the place of decision.  Many of the followers of Jesus left Jesus because of his teaching about the Bread of Life, that He Himself is the Bread and that we must eat His body and drink His blood.  If that teaching were only symbolic, it would not have offended those followers.  So many today, even among Catholics, no longer believe in the Real Presence.  Jesus Christ is truly present in the bread and wine, which become His body and His blood.  Only when the strength of that teaching is present can we understand why followers left Him in His own time and why people today still find it difficult to accept the Divine Presence, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Holy Eucharist.

When we come to communion in our Catholic Church, we affirm that Christ is truly present, not just as symbol and not just as remembrance—but truly present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.  This is why the early Christian believers could rejoice and could be strong when they were persecuted.  They knew that Jesus is with us, now and always, and in this Sacrament.

What is your decision?

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

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2 Responses to Reflection for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B

  1. Mary Salmond says:

    Abbot Philip: everything you say is true, no matter how hard it may be. Our separated brethren think it is too hard. Oh, that Catholics could teach this full knowledge of the Gospel and they would believe. Anything that is true is not easy to stomach. So, some choose not to believe anything – follow their own gods of earth, sky, and animals. Our bishops must bring back the vibrancy of the apostles “to go out and teach all nations” and to set the example of truth and holiness! And change the world as Jesus says.


  2. I’m sure by now most people have read what Flannery O’Conner wrote about a discussion she once had with a group of friends, but for those who haven’t read it, here is a copy:

    “”Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. [Mary McCarthy] said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the ‘most portable’ person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, ‘Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.’ ” (


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